Australian autism app among finalists in Google Impact Challenge

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A free smartphone app that helps identify the early signs of autism in young children is among 10 finalists competing for four $750,000 cash grants in the 2016 Google Impact Challenge Australia.

ASDetect is a video-led, self-assessment app that enables parents and carers to assess the social attention and communication behaviours of children from 11 months to 2½ years of age. The app guides the parent or carer through a 20- to 30-minute assessment using a combination of videos and questions, some of which include activities that can be carried out with the child.

Once the assessment has been completed, the parent or carer receives both an on-screen result of either ‘low’ or ‘high’ likelihood of autism, as well as a comprehensive formal assessment sent by email.

ASDetect is based on research conducted at La Trobe’s Olga Tennison Autism Research Centre (OTARC), Australia’s first centre dedicated to research on Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD). Part of OTARC’s research focus is looking for ways to diagnose autism in children before they reach verbal maturity. The app was built with the support of the Salesforce Foundation, a US-based philanthropic organisation.

The Centre says that the Social Attention and Communication Study (SACS), on which ASDetect is based, has been shown to be remarkably accurate in detecting autism:

In our studies, 81 per cent of children who were identified as having a high likelihood for autism by Maternal Child Health nurses, did in fact have autism. Many of the remaining children who were assessed with a high likelihood had other related developmental conditions, such as language or developmental delays.

As a finalist, OTARC has already been awarded $250,000 to expand availability of ASDetect, by tailoring the app linguistically, culturally and socially to different countries around the world.

Should it be voted into the top four, it will use the $750,000 grant towards translating ASDetect into Mandarin, Japanese, Indonesian, Spanish and Polish. Each language was selected due to OTARC’s close ties with autism research and organisations in these countries.

Dr Josephine Barbaro, La Trobe research fellow and developer of ASDetect, said:

By rolling out this app internationally, we can assist in the early identification and diagnosis of more than 73 million children, paving the way for early intervention and better developmental outcomes.

On Wednesday 26 October, the 10 finalists will pitch their projects to a panel of judges, who will select three winners. A fourth winner will be decided by public vote. Voting closes October 25. You can view the other finalists and cast your vote here.

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